The South Dakota Coyotes are about to enter year two of Missouri Valley Conference schedule the same way they arrived in year one, with one win in the first three games and Western Illinois up first in league play.

The Coyotes were completely shutdown offensively in the first half at Northern Arizona last Saturday night, getting outgained by the Lumberjacks 171-7 in the first 30 minutes.

Head Coach Joe Glenn told me there were lots of factors that contributed to the poor first half showing by his offense:

Despite the offensive woes, USD was down just 13-0 at the half, thanks to inspired play from the defense, which held NAU scoreless on its first six drives and forced a pair of turnovers on the night:

Offensive coordinator Wes Beschorner made some adjustments to the Coyotes game plan in the second half, and right away things started clocking, with quarterback Josh Vander Maten running the ball effectively and also throwing the ball downfield to a variety of receivers, as USD scored 16 second half points to close within six with 2:54 to play, but couldn't convert on an onside kick, and lost 22-16:

Western Illinois University

It's on to conference play now and the Leathernecks of Western Illinois are next.  WIU won in Vermillion last season in the Missouri Valley opener, 24-17, as the Coyotes turned the ball over and allowed 128 yards rushing to running back Nikko Watson.  Coach Glenn says it's no secret why Watson is so effective running the football:

Defensively, the Leathernecks are led by a pair of talented linebackers, JJ Raffelson (who had six tackles against USD last season) and Kevin Kinzel.  Martinez Davis anchors a defensive backfield that has racked up seven interceptions in four games this season:

As for Western Illinois (2-2), the Leathernecks are +11 on turnovers, which is third best in the nation.  WIU's two losses have been to FBS schools, Minnesota and UNLV.

Head Coach Bob Nielson isn't overlooking the Coyotes Saturday:

Heading into conference play, there are a lot of similarities between this year's USD team and last year's squad.  Both feature youth throughout the roster, but still respond to adversity, and stay competitive in most every game:

As for playing in the Missouri Valley, it promises to be another grind for the Coyotes, with three (NDSU, UNI, SDSU) of the top six teams in the nation all on the schedule in the next two months:

Kickoff is 3:00pm Saturday afternoon in Macomb.